Arts and Culture

Arts and culture

Clay Masters / IPR

The Maximum Ames Music Festival took place over the weekend. It featured 100 bands from the around the country and Iowa.  It’s organized by two musicians who also run a record label under the same name.  They started this event four years ago to expose the label’s Iowa based musicians to larger audiences, but now they’re changing their strategy.

Photo by John Pemble

After spending 104 years in Washington D.C., a sculpture of James Harlan returns to his hometown Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  Harlan was a U.S. senator and a member of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet, but he is most remembered in Iowa as an influential college president of what is now called Iowa Wesleyan College.

Photo by John Pemble

A new play about one the country’s most influential Presidents will take place in a space only used by politicians.  “Lincoln’s Last Interview” only engagement is on the floor of the Iowa House in the State Capitol.  It’s being used as a stand in for the US House of Representatives.  The play is set on April 14th, 1865 where President Lincoln and his wife Mary give an interview to a reporter before leaving to see a play at Ford’s Theater.  

Kurt Ullrich / University of Iowa Press

A new photography book sets out to capture what the author describes as, "the joy of the Iowa State Fair."  It's Kurt Ullrich's first book, and IPR's Katherine Perkins traveled to Jackson County to find out what inspired this fresh look at an event that's 160-years-old.

Photo by John Pemble

Some exhibits at the Iowa State Fair begin before the opening day like the photo salon in the cultural center building.

Photo by John Pemble

100 years ago, amateur radio operators were in the early years of making wireless communication with people around the world.  Professional radio operators started calling them “ham” as a pejorative, because the amateur’s equipment often caused interference, but operators embraced it and the negative connotation disappeared.  There are 800-thousand licensed ham radio operators in North America with 6,619 of them in Iowa. One of the reasons this hobby continues to move forward is because of regular competitions.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Des Moines Metro Opera's summer 2014 season includes “Dead Man Walking”, the company’s first work from the 21st century.  It’s an adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s 1994 book about her experiences of ministering to death row inmates.  The story is based on Prejean’s early prison ministry work when she became the spiritual advisor for death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier until his execution in 1984 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  While the opera is based on Sonnier’s case, the story uses a fictious character, Joseph De Rocher.

Photo by Clay Masters

Musician David Byrne was a mainstay on MTV in the early 1980s as the lead singer for Talking Heads. The group disbanded in the 90s, but Byrne’s still an influential artist and he used that influence this weekend during the grand opening of Des Moines Social Club.  This nonprofit organization started seven years ago as a center for the arts.  For most of those years it existed in small rented spaces, but now it has its own building, a downtown fire station built in 1937, that’s been under renovation for about a year. 

Photo by John Pemble

Late last year Olafur Eliasson finished the sculpture “panoramic awareness pavilion” in his Berlin studio and in December members of his crew installed it at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.  The work is a series of 23, 9-foot tall glass panels arranged in a circle around a light beam.  Each slab of glass is semi-reflective in color gradients from yellow, blue, to orange.  Thursday afternoon Eliasson saw his work for the first time in its permanent Iowa home during a brief ceremony conducted by the Des Moines Art Center.

Photo by John Pemble

This week in New York City, nominations for the 68th Annual Tony Awards were announced.  In a few days around 870 voters across the country will receive ballots to determine this year’s winners, but only one will be sent to Iowa. 

Jeff Chelesvig is the CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts, which includes the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, where touring versions of Broadway musicals are presented.  Chelesvig has been a Tony voter for 18 years and says for a musical to be eligible for a Tony award, the producers must formally invite voters to come see the shows in New York.

From Russia with Love

Apr 22, 2014
IPR's Tony Dehner

  A group of ten Russian journalism students visited the Iowa Public Radio studios in Cedar Falls Tuesday. They are part of an exchange program with Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. The project is known as Challenge Our Bias, Midwest-Russian Alliance on Dialogue and Education or COMRADE. The Russian  students are on a whirlwind tour of Iowa with stops at media outlets in Waterloo, Iowa City and Des Moines.

Jordi Vidal / Redferns

Musician Jason Molina influenced many of his peers and sold tens of thousands of records for a small independent label from Indiana. Molina died at age 39 a little more than a year ago from organ failure due to alcohol abuse. But now two new releases are paying tribute to the musician. Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters has more. 

Photo by John Pemble

Last May when violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn graduated from Luther College’s music program, they had already formed the modern folk duo The OK Factor.  But to move their musical goals forward, they decided to move to Minneapolis where they developed their songs and made recordings at a friend’s studio.  Some of their concerts dates brought them back to Olivia’s home town Cedar Falls as well as the Iowa State Fair.  By the autumn, Olivia moved to Memphis where she took a day job in an office and Karla to the Atlanta area living with her parents and teaching music lessons.

Worcester Art Museum

Winterset is known as the birthplace of John Wayne, but the town also claims real life hero and art conservator George Stout who rescued hundreds of pieces of art work from being destroyed by the Nazi’s during World War Two.  Stout is profiled in the book, Monuments Men, and a film of the same name starring George Clooney, opened this weekend across the country. Winterset Public Library director Nancy Trask says when he was younger George Stout was quite an actor…

Photo by John Pemble

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.

Photo by John Pemble

Classic stories are often updated to fit modern times and this year a Des Moines family has adapted an old holiday tale to a digital comic book.  

Photo by John Pemble

There’s a new beacon of light in downtown Des Moines coming from a new work of art in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park called “panoramic awareness pavilion” by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.  It’s a circle of 23 multicolored 9-foot tall reflective glass panels with a bright light in the center.  The Des Moines Art Center has wanted an Eliasson original since the park opened in 2009. Art Center Jeff Fleming says when they asked Eliasson to create a custom work for this space, the artist immediately said yes.

Photo by John Pemble

This week the musical Wicked is celebrating ten years.  Former Iowan Tim Baudler returned to Des Moines to see this show at the Civic Center with close friends and family to thank them for helping him overcome struggles in his life. 

courtesy of New York Times

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof speaks with IPR's Sarah McCammon

Award-winning New York Times columnist and author Nicholas Kristof will discuss his book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30 at the University of Iowa's Iowa Memorial Union.  

Photo by John Pemble

Last week a performance combining the musical culture of Hungary and Iowa made its American debut in Cedar Falls.  It was organized by two recent music school graduates specializing in the performance of contemporary percussion music. Today they will share these new works with more Iowans as their short tour across the state resumes.


Clay Masters / IPR

Despite changes in how Americans are listening to music, think Pandora or Spotify, people are still checking out physical CDs from libraries. A recent PEW report found that half of Americans visited a library last year, and 16 percent of them checked out music.

But just as libraries are introducing eBooks to readers – librarians are also trying to figure out how to get digital music to library goers. Iowa City has launched a digital music library that focuses on its local music scene.

Going Local Online

Photo by John Pemble

Two years ago a memorial honoring Iowa’s fallen veterans began traveling around the state. This week it’s getting its biggest audience yet while on display at the Iowa State Fair.  This new memorial is part of an effort by two Nebraskans who want to make exhibits like this for every state. 

Photo by Katherine Perkins

One of the fastest growing equine sports in the nation was showcased at the Iowa State Fair this weekend.  Iowa Public Radio’s Katherine Perkins was there to see cowboy mounted shooting.

Photo by John Pemble

One of the musical performances this weekend from the Iowa State Fair is the new band “The OK Factor".  Violinist Karla Dietmeyer and cellist Olivia Hahn combine folk, alternative rock, and modern classical music. 


Photo by John Pemble

Elsie Monthei is a blind painter who for more than thirty years has painted landscapes.  This week she spent a day at the Iowa State Fair demonstrating her talent for Very Special Arts (VSA), a group with the mission of highlighting the artistic abilities of people with disabilities.

Filmmakers and movie lovers are descending on Tipton this weekend for the Hardacre Film Festival. But as Iowa Public Radio’s Rob Dillard  reports, when the festival goes dark tomorrow (Saturday) night, so too will the theater in which it plays.

John Pemble / IPR

 RAGBRAI, the annual bicycling ride across the state, made its way to Des Moines Tuesday. The trip wraps up this weekend in Fort Madison. Among the cyclists this year are NPR reporters Don Gonyea, Scott Horsley and Brian Naylor.

IPR's Clay Masters caught up with the trio. You can follow their travels the rest of this week at Return to Iowa.

Phil Thomson

Over the weekend, at least 30,000 people were estimated to be at the sixth annual 80/35 music festival in downtown Des Moines. That’s according to festival organizers. 

Photo by John Pemble

A new sculpture weighing more than twelve tons has been under construction at the Des Moines Art Center for two weeks.  It’s titled “Scree Stage”, named after the debris of fallen rocks found at the base of a mountain. It’s the center of an exhibit opening this weekend. Iowa Public Radio’s John Pemble visited the Art Center as this massive new work of art began to take its final shape.


Flickr / ChrisWarren1956